It was 2014, and Jim Reinhardt, who had retired from a demanding job, was ‘bored out of his mind.’ So, he traveled, spending some time in Upstate New York, and met a Hardnecked garlic farmer who showed him around his farm. Since his wife wasn’t a fan of the bulb, Reinhardt’s experience with garlic, at that time, was scooping it out of a jar. He had no idea that there were even different varieties of garlic. Almost as if the universe was trying to tell him something, he kept running across other growers, including an uncle who cultivated a small garden of garlic. “Why not,” he finally thought. “It doesn’t seem that hard. Let me try growing an acre.”
Reinhardt brought 500 pounds of bulbs and took some lessons from a Cornell Agricultural program. There were challenges, but that one acre became three the following year, and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, Nature’s Garlic Farm grows approximately 1.2 million Hardnecked garlic bulbs right here in Easton, providing restaurants, CSAs, grocers, produce stands, farmers markets, wholesalers, and all the Wegmans in Maryland and Virginia.
In case this is not clear yet, Hardnecks are not your ordinary garlic. They are easy to differentiate from the Softneck variety, which is typically seen as the grocers. Primarily, one has a stiff stalk attached to the bulb, and the other does not. You can also blame the Hardnecks for the popularity of the serpentine green stems, known as scapes. Scapes, which have sparked and inspired the gourmet scene are actually the flower bud, which is removed to encourage the bulbs to thicken. If allowed to mature, the scape will form a bulbis, which can be eaten raw or used in cooking.
Which brings up a question: aside from these culinary extras, isn’t this garlic…. well, just garlic? Listen to Reinhardt: “It’s all about the flavor profiles,” he says. The minute you have it, you’ll never ever, ever eat the garbage from the grocery store again!” Besides, he explains, the ones purchased at the store are dipped in bleach until the roots are burned off and the bulb turns completely white all the way through the plant. This is not what you’ll see at his farm.
And it’s not just only about the taste. If you’re into the health aspect of foods, the Hardneck garlic is, as Reinhardt explains, the ‘original penicillin.’ It was carried into battle since the beginning of time, used to cauterize wounds, and treat intestinal infections, among other things. Search for Hardneck garlic on the web and see that much has been published about the therapeutic benefits of using it to treat a variety of ailments from high blood pressure to cancer to diabetes.
That’s because garlic contains allicin, an oily, yellowish liquid which gives garlic its unique odor, and is produced when garlic is crushed or chopped. Allicin has numerous health benefits, and the Hardneck contains up to 3 times more allicin than the Softneck variety, making it a true ‘superfood.’ Raw garlic is also a source of vitamin B6 and C, manganese, selenium, and other minerals, including phosphorus, calcium, potassium, iron, and copper.
It’s not surprising that Reinhardt finds this bulb so fascinating. His excitement is contagious, and he’s willing to share it. Nature’s Garlic Farm offers two programs for anyone looking to expand their knowledge: renting a “row foot” or attending a workshop.
Rent-a-Row, Watch it Grow: For $9.95 per row foot, people can ‘virtually’ experience the various stages of growing the garlic plant, and they get two garlic bulbs when it’s harvested. “It’s just a fun way to get people to try a different garlic than the one they’re used to,” he says.
The other program is the one-day, four-hour Garlic Growing Workshops held on Saturdays and Sundays in September and October and again in the spring. Attendees learn how to prepare the soil, plant, maintain and harvest the Hardneck garlic scapes and bulbs. They also get a pound of garlic cloves to plant at home.
For someone who hasn’t been farming his whole life, Reinhardt is good at what he does. His farm is a USDA certified facility, and he uses no pesticides or herbicides. “So, look,” he explains, “I don’t care how safe pesticides are. I don’t care how safe herbicides are. I don’t want it in my gardens. I use plenty of Roundup on my driveway. But, I’m not spraying it on what I eat or where I’m physically walking through or working.”
Quality control is also a crucial component in his cultivation. Size matters, and each bulb is measured and must be two inches or larger before it is sent to a grocer or to Wegmans. CSAs prefer the smaller bulbs, he tells us, and he saves the 1 ½ -2 inch bulbs for them. Smaller than that, he doesn’t want his name on it.
This attention to detail makes a difference. Reinhardt mentioned how he hears from people who took the time to contact him about his produce. “It’s not like they have our phone number,” he says. “The label just says ‘Natures Garlic Farm, Locally Grown, Easton, MD.’ They’ve taken the time to find my phone number to call, not to buy, just to call me up and say ‘thanks.’ That’s pretty rewarding. That makes your bad day, a good day. All of a sudden, you’re smiling again. Right?”
By the way, despite it all, his wife still doesn’t like garlic.
For more information about Nature’s Garlic Farm please go here.